A Really Quick Post About The Oddity of Classic World First Racing (1,458 words “quick”)

I had two different posts in the works for today, but those ground to a halt once I saw this news story.

Method Announces the Classic Race to World First

So, let’s talk about this instead!

I find the idea a little hilarious, to be honest – Method partnering with other guilds and giving themselves an 8-day window from launch to be leveled and have beaten Molten Core.

Firstly, I find the whole thing funny – not because I think they’ll fail or anything, but because I see a mix of responses from the Classic fanbase – some, including my guildies that are bought fully in on Classic, wondering if they can even meet that timer at all, while others talking about it being against the spirit of Classic as an idea.

My opinion is a bit more mixed – I think they’ll accomplish it, I think the stream will be boring to watch unless the personalities involved dial it up to 11, and I think it is against what the community sees the spirit of Classic as, while also being fully possible and something of an illusion-breaker for that fandom.

The whole package of Classic is the rose-tinted glasses that come with it – the idea that the game was hard, that it would take forever to do anything, and that even in a 2019 release, it would maintain those things.

What I’ve tried (politely, mostly) to discuss through skeptical posts here is that Classic is largely an illusion bound to its place in time. WoW at launch wasn’t hard because the game itself was at some threshold of difficulty that is higher than today – arguably, the bar for most world content was lower. It just took longer because of tuning, especially for leveling as a tank or healer, and because no one knew as much about WoW as a game as we do today.

The thing an event like this will expose is that the difficulty perception of Vanilla is largely a ruse, not by Blizzard, but by the diehards who have been longing for it – the refrain being, “we liked Vanilla because it was hard and it took time to earn things!” And, to be fair, yes – back then, it was harder to do many things in game, but a lot of that difficulty was more down to the mechanics of the game being obscured to us, and that first time leveling requiring us to find our bearings.

My leveling experience in Vanilla was somewhat unique, in that I leveled Horde characters to 10 multiple times, then an Alliance priest to 19 before finally getting my own account and repeating that process, then taking my new priest all the way to 60. Each time it got easier, as I understood more about the game, and in the case of the Horde level 10 brigade and later the pair of Night Elf priests, I knew the path through their leveling better.

I think Classic will be fun, and I know it will take longer for someone to reach 60 in Classic than on Live, but there is this sort of mythical expectation I see among many, who believe that Classic will match their expectations for difficulty.

During the beta phase, this was already struck down at least a little bit, as players reported Elite mobs hitting for less than they “remembered” – when it turned out that in fact, most of them were relating to private servers that had overtuned the mobs to match player expectations, or their own expectations and memories, which were not accurate to what the real experience was. The list of “not a bugs” about the game has lots of gameplay oddities, but also a lot of little bits of nostalgia struck down – indications the game was easier than many of us remember.

For Blizzard, I think part of their muted expectations on the recent Activision investor call was due to this. Blizzard knows that player nostalgia can only extend so far, and the reality of the classic experience will not match that for many. That’s not to say that people are wrong to be excited for Classic, or that everyone excited for Classic is going to be let down. I know a lot of people who are rightly very excited for it because the gameplay style better suits them, and the structure of the game is better for their play style.

However, a lot of people I know, mostly my guildies, are talking about how long it will take to get to the endgame, about proper gearing and optimization, and they themselves have this built up idea of it being modern WoW, but with longer leveling – which it is not.

This brings me back to the Method stream. Firstly, streaming vanilla leveling in the first place is something I don’t particularly “get” – the fun is in playing it, not watching it, but maybe at 33 I’ve finally hit the point where the whippersnappers are doing things I am not meant to understand, and maybe some teenager really wants to watch Sco level. However, the other part of this “world first” race is the raid, which is Molten Core, which is…not particularly fun to watch. Molten Core was fun for its time, but it also not quite up to the standards even for the time. When other MMOs had world bosses as the main raid content, adding difficulty from PvP, enemy groups tagging the boss, fighting against spawn timers and having to assign lookouts to watch for spawns, WoW’s instanced raiding is fairly quaint by comparison.

Most of MC’s difficulty is in very simple pattern recognition and reaction – dispelling debuffs, Tranquilizing Shot-ing off enrages, and dealing with the slow ramp of fire damage through the raid zone’s bosses. Is gear a struggle? Maybe, but a lot of the clears my guild in vanilla did, we used crafted greens with Fire Resistance, Arcane Resistance, and no other stats on them. It went fine. Another point of allure for vanilla, according to many, is that gear-chasing isn’t the end-all activity, but the flipside to that is that this 8-day challenge doesn’t really have a gearing component, at least not much of one. I suspect that the guilds involved will send 4 10-player parties through chain runs of Upper Blackrock Spire to gear up, or 8 5-player parties through Blackrock Depths, both to attune and also to get some gear. Will all of that gear be necessary? No, but the thing about World First guilds is that they’re damn sure going to try to gear up anyways.

I do think that events like this reveal something about the modern gaming landscape, though – streaming is inescapable and all of the WoW content creators are going to chase what they consider to be easy marks. My expectation is that a world first race in Classic is going to be like a magician who does their tricks a bit too slowly – the illusion of what Classic is for many is going to be laid bare, and I think that is going to be an interesting thing to see reactions to.

Of course, the other side is that a minority of players are going to watch this event anyways, and for those who just want to level at their own pace, Classic is more accommodating of that. I do have some guildies, however, who have placed a lot of value into vanilla offering a supposedly more “hardcore” experience and talking about min-maxing and really optimizing for endgame, and I think those people are just setting themselves up for disappointment. After this news broke, our guild discord server had a chat about it, and this player in particular was saying, “I wonder if it’ll even be possible, they’ll surely have to replace some gear and get up to the right item level” to which I responded that not only is it not necessary, but they’ll probably finish with time to spare. He’s talked about how tier sets are sub-optimal, about the best way to gear and play, and I think that is just missing the whole point.

Modern WoW is a game about endgame, no doubt about it. The whole reason Blizzard really pushed scaling technology is so they could make zones that worked for longer and would be useful outside of the sliver of time people spent leveling in them. Classic WoW has an endgame focus that begins to sharpen over the patch cycle, for sure, but it was a lot more about the journey.

If you’re talking about min-maxing and finding the best build at 60, then it’s fairly clear that you’re not really wanting the journey and are likely to end up disappointed when your endgame content comes into view faster than expected and enters the rearview in pretty short order as well.

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3 thoughts on “A Really Quick Post About The Oddity of Classic World First Racing (1,458 words “quick”)

  1. Having seen this multiple times with EQ progression servers, this does not surprise me at all. Of course, in the EQ experience, downing the raid bosses also started the timer for unlocking the next expansion. Also, back in the day SOE used to publish the server first raid boss clears, so there was a point of public pride to it as well. Not that there isn’t in WoW Classic, but being first and how soon you do it has less of an impact on the whole server I suppose.

    All sorts of people are going to approach the experience differently.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. You absolutely nailed the main reason why Classic won’t be anything like as “hard” as people who were there at the start remember: knowledge. All new MMORPGs are harder in the early days than they become later on, even modern ones, because everything is new and people have to learn how it works. Over time that effect has faded a lot because huge amounts of information are available pre-launch from alpha and beta players and because a lot of MMOs use the same, established systems.

    In 2004 that wasn’t the case. A lot of people who played Vanilla WoW hadn’t played anything like it before and the resources available to them were far smaller and less detailed than they are today. Everyone had to muddle along and learn as they went and that made everything slower and harder.

    Even so, in 2004-5, when I was playing EQII and EQ and only hearing about WoW from what people in those games who had tried it said, WoW’s reputation was as an easy-mode MMORPG for casual players. Indeed, one of the more casual and laid-back players I knew from EQ went to WoW for a few months just after launch and then came back and when I asked him why he’d come back he said “WoW’s fun but it’s too easy – I got bored”.

    It’s all relative and this time around the comparisons are going to be to an exaggerated memory of difficulty. Lots of people are goong to be surprised and some are going to be disappointed. On the other hjand, as you say, the gameplay in general will be sufficiently different that some people will just find it more to their taste. I’m hoping to be one of those.

    (I might canibalize this comment for a post later today – fair notice!)

    Liked by 2 people

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